Of serenity in the city of love

April 5th, 2008 - 1:01 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Anbumani Ramadoss
(Letter from Ashgabat)
By Vishnu Makhijani

Ashgabat, April 5 (IANS) Should it be surprising that serenity prevails in a city that derives its name from the Farsi word for love? To truly understand the import of this, one needs to drive through the city at night. The wide and brightly-let boulevards lined by illuminated high rise apartment and office blocks, most of them in pristine white, make for a dramatic contrast against the black moonless sky - and create a sense of utter serenity.

Traffic is minimal and pedestrians few and far between - adding to the sense of peace and quiet.

As we drove through the city, after one’s arrival with the Indian delegation accompanying Vice President M.H. Ansari, a sharp shower came down. Rain soon turned into hail and very quickly, the roads were carpeted with little white ice balls - heightening the stillness of the moment.

Ashgabat is a corruption of the Farsi word “Aashikabad” that translates into City of Love. Logically therefore, its name in the modern form would more appropriately be Ashkabad. No one knows how the ‘k’ got substituted by the ‘g’ but till Turkmenistan’s independence in 1991, the city was known as Ashgabad.

And how come the ‘t’ replaced the ‘d’?

“I guess because it’s easier on the tongue,” offered our tour bus driver.

Not the best of explanations - but let that be and let’s concentrate on what is truly a beautiful city by any standards.

It wasn’t always like this. Till independence, Ashgabat was like any other dowdy smalltime Soviet city - and evidence of this still exists in the old quarter that has been very cleverly integrated into the new city.

Saparmurat Niyazov, who was Turkmenistan’s president from independence on Oct 29, 1991 till he suddenly died Dec 21, 2006, decided the old order had to make way for the new. Toward this end, he spent billions of dollars on Ashgabat’s makeover and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the turnaround has been dramatic.

Wherever one looks, there are dazzling white high rises; amusement parks; memorials to anything and everything from independence and neutrality to horses, to books to mothers; water parks and state of the art sports facilities.

As for the white facades, Turkmenistan discovered huge marble reserves around the time of independence and the rest, as they say, is history.

The construction boom is still on, as was evident during the 15 km ride from the airport to the city centre. This area was a wilderness before independence and looking at it now, this might be hard to believe.

One thing is for sure: a lot of thought has gone into the constructions and there is nothing haphazard about this - like in many Indian cities, for instance.

Care has been taken to ensure similarity in a group of blocks - and between groups of blocks. The illumination of these structures at night is also uniform and there are no dark spots to be seen.

And finally, here’s something that Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss may not like: the petroleum ministry building is designed in the manner of a cigarette lighter and the health ministry building in the manner of a snake.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)

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